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If you have back pain lasting longer than 6 weeks, you should see your doctor.

If you have back pain lasting longer than 6 weeks, you should see your doctor.
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Back pain

Back pain is very common and affects people of all ages. While it generally improves in a few days, or sometimes weeks, back pain can continue for a long period.

What is back pain?

Back pain usually feels like an ache, tension or stiffness in the back.

Several things can cause it, including a sudden movement or fall, an injury, or a medical condition. The pain is usually related to the way the bones, discs, tendons, muscles and ligaments work together.

Most people experience lower back pain at some point in their life. Around 1 in 6 Australians have back pain each year. Most are of working age.

If you are experiencing back pain yourself, it is important not to restrict your movement too much. Even if your back is very painful, slow and gentle movements are better than lying still in bed. If you keep your back moving, it will become more supple and flexible.

Do I need an x-ray?

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists and Australian Physiotherapy Association recommend that an x-ray in response to low back pain is only needed if you have other significant symptoms, such as problems with bladder and bowel control, severe pain or weakness or numbness in one or both legs.

For more information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

If your back pain lasts longer than 6 weeks, you should see your doctor, who will be able to provide advice and treatment if necessary.

More about back pain

  • In 2014–15, an estimated 3.7 million (or 1 in 6) Australians had chronic back problems.
  • It has been estimated that around 4 in every 5 people suffer from lower back pain in some form at some point in their lives. It affects men and women equally.
  • Back problems are a common reason for pain among younger and middle-aged adults, but they can also start early in life – between the ages of 8 and 10.
  • Pain is the key symptom in most back problems. One study of people with long-term back problems suggested that 1 in 7 experience constant or persistent pain, and nearly 9 out of 10 experience pain one day per week
  • According to the National Hospital Morbidity Database, in 204-15 there were 126,579 hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of a back problem. Common reasons for hospitalisations were:
    • low back pain (just over 1 in 4 hospitalisations for back problems)
    • disc problems when one or more nerve roots is affected and does not work properly (just over 1 in 10 hospitalisations)
    • narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) (around 1 in every 14)

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your back pain, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: June 2017

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Therapeutic ultrasound for chronic low-back pain | Cochrane

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Acupuncture and dry-needling for low back pain | Cochrane

Thirty-five RCTs covering 2861 patients were included in this systematic review. There is insufficient evidence to make any recommendations about acupuncture or dry-needling for acute low-back pain. For chronic low-back pain, results show that acupuncture is more effective for pain relief than no treatment or sham treatment, in measurements taken up to three months. The results also show that for chronic low-back pain, acupuncture is more effective for improving function than no treatment, in the short-term. Acupuncture is not more effective than other conventional and "alternative" treatments. When acupuncture is added to other conventional therapies, it relieves pain and improves function better than the conventional therapies alone. However, effects are only small. Dry-needling appears to be a useful adjunct to other therapies for chronic low-back pain.

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Combined chiropractic interventions for low-back pain | Cochrane

Low-back pain is one of the most common and costly musculoskeletal problems in modern society. About 80% of the population will experience low-back pain at some time in their lives. Many people with low-back pain seek the care of a chiropractor. For this review, chiropractic was defined as encompassing a combination of therapies such as spinal manipulation, massage, heat and cold therapies, electrotherapies, the use of mechanical devices, exercise programs, nutritional advice, orthotics, lifestyle modification and patient education. The review did not look at studies where chiropractic was defined as spinal manipulation alone as this has been reviewed elsewhere and is not necessarily reflective of actual clinical practice. Non-specific low-back pain indicates that no specific cause is detectable, such as infection, cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fracture, inflammatory process or radicular syndrome (pain, tingling or numbness spreading down the leg).Twelve randomised trials (including 2887 participants) assessing various combinations of chiropractic care for low-back pain were included in this review, but only three of these studies were considered to have a low risk of bias.

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